Illinois church members spend week helping family in Macon, Georgia

When groups spend a week building homes alongside families in need through The Fuller Center for Housing’s U.S. Builders program, it’s a mission trip that involves plenty of physical labor.

In other words, it’s no day at the beach. But that’s just fine with people like David Burgener, one of 28 members from St. Peter’s United Church of Christ of Elmhurst, Ill., who spent last week renovating a once-vacant property in Macon, Ga., that will soon be home for a family of five.

Claudia and David Burgener
Claudia and David Burgener

“I can lie on the beach for maybe one or two days, then I get bored,” Burgener said. “Here, I’m never bored because there’s always something to do and somebody asking what they can do next. This is much more relaxing than sitting on the beach.”

This is the fourth such mission trip he has taken with his wife, Claudia, through St. Peter’s, although they do other service work in their local community.

“It’s a week away from the winter weather in Chicago, and for me it’s really more of a vacation than it is work,” he added. “While I may be physically exhausted at the end of the week, it’s better than being mentally exhausted after a week at the office.”

The Burgeners and their fellow church members were renovating a three-bedroom, two-bath brick home built in 1959 that had sat empty and deteriorating for years. Wells Fargo donated the property to The Fuller Center for Housing of Macon, Georgia through its Community & Urban Stabilization Program (CUSP). The Fuller Center will turn the property into a like-new home for Adrian and Thomas Redding and their three children through the Save a House/Make a Home program.

“I’ve never met so many wonderful people in my life. Working around them and being with them, it’s so nice that words can’t explain.” — Thomas Redding, homeowner partner

“This house had good bones,” said Dianne Fuller, executive director of The Fuller Center of Macon. “Since we had not received a home through that program, I think they wanted to give it to someone who had not received one yet and gave it to us. And this family seemed to match this house and what this house had to offer. One of the factors that matched this family well is that the children already attended the school in this district (Lane Elementary), which is less than a half-mile from here.”

Adrian and Thomas Redding
Adrian and Thomas Redding

“This program is a blessing,” said Adrian Redding, whose family of five is currently sharing an apartment with her mother and three sisters. “And because they don’t charge interest, it’s a lot less than renting. And it’s right down the street from my kids’ school.”

“It’s wonderful,” added Thomas Redding, who works as a cook at a nearby restaurant while Adrian nurses a heart problem that recently resurfaced. “I’ve never met so many wonderful people in my life. Working around them and being with them, it’s so nice that words can’t explain. We love what they’re doing for us.”

While it may have had good bones, there’s a reasons the Matthews Drive property was donated to the nonprofit. Years of neglect took their toll on the house and the surrounding property. The team from Illinois made tremendous strides, but there still will be plenty of work for volunteers who will be on site March 19 for a one-day build event to celebrate Fuller Center co-founder Linda Fuller’s 75th birthday.

“We took one look and said, ‘We can’t do this one,'” Claudia Burgener said. “There was so many things wrong, and it was so dirty. It was a lot of stuff.”

“It’s improved a lot,”.Adrian Redding said as she painted alongside the volunteers Friday. “They’ve done a lot of work.”

Volunteers and families develop a strong bond during such builds, partly due to The Fuller Center’s requirement that families perform “sweat equity” hours working alongside volunteers in the construction or repair of homes. That bond grew even stronger with this group on Thursday when the Reddings’ three children were presented with three new bicycles purchased with the support of a nonprofit in Illinois called New Bikes for Kids.

“This family is wonderful,” Claudia Burgener said. “We’ve had the opportunity to work side-by-side with them. One of them or more has been here every day. They started out very shy, but we’ve built a relationship with them that is going to stay in our hearts forever.”

While several members of the group had worked on multiple mission trips like this one, Carol Jones was on her first — for good reason: In previous years she could not pull away from her job as an educational assistant for a multi-needs classroom at a local high school.

“I retired two weeks ago, and I’m the type of person who needs to be needed,” Jones said. “This is something that’s been on a bucket list of mine. So I called, and someone had just dropped off the list and I took that place.”

While the bonds with the family are important, mission trips like those taken with The Fuller Center’s U.S. Builders and Global Builders programs also are an opportunity to strengthen ties within the team.

“Working with The Fuller Center is working out great for us,” said June Nikoleit, one of the more experienced members of the team. “We’re able to stay together as a group and get to know the community. We’re so overwhelmed with the graciousness of the people of Macon. It’s been a wonderful, welcoming week for us.

“The selfish part is that we get to spend time together serving, and that’s how we’ve built relationships within our group,” she added. “But we’re also building relationship with those in need — and really that’s all we need. We get so much more back than we’ve given.”


Check out some photos from the group’s work in Macon:

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